An international conference on "The Smaller Univesities in Europe from the 15th to the 19th Centuries" was held at Alghero from October 30th to November 2nd 1996, promoted by the Department of History and by the Interdisciplinary Centre for the History of the University of Sassari, and in whose promotion and organisation Gian Paolo Brizzi took a leading role. The interventions of many Italian and foreign scholars aimed at detailed studies of the history of smaller universities in Europe, tracing their origins and development and their complex relations with the social reality in which they grew up. A picture emerged whose variety can often be attributed to pre-existing forms of higher education (religious schools, academies for the nobility, professional schools etc.), in many cases with fine teaching and scientific traditions which were then handed down to the universities. Perhaps the most interesting and original aspect which emerged during the four day conference, as Piero Del Negro observed in his closing remarks, was the reading of the histories of these universities as a product of a meeting between the specific demands determined by the aspirations, traditions, and the ferment of the local elites, and what modern states managed to set up, without overmuch conflict, in answer to them.